Op-Ed: 911 Fee Increase Makes Sense, but Is It Too Much?
Over a year ago the Campbell County Fiscal Court unanimously approved to fund the infrastructure for a new 911 radio system. I am in total agreement that this is a must to insure the safety of our citizens, police, firefighters, and EMS personnel. I do, however, question the funding method placed on the taxpayers.
For the last several years, the 911 Dispatch has been funded by a $45 fee placed on each occupied unit in the County. Prior to the $45 fee, landline phone users were billed a $3 charge per month. There are 40,453 units in the county which currently generates $1,820,385 per year. On April 13, I was informed, regarding the cost ($4.8 million) and the means by which the taxpayers would pay for the upgrade. The means to pay would be an increase in the 911 fee from $45 to $70, a 56 percent increase.
The county’s plan to pay is to take $200,000 out of Dispatch reserves and finance the 4.6 million balance over ten years. The yearly debt service will be $532,000 with a 10-year payback of $5.3 million.
Now, do the math. Without calculating any new growth or funding from the State ($400,000 to $500,000 per year), the new $70 fee will generate an additional $1,011,325. This will bring the total funds collected from the fee to $2,831,710 per year. Subtracting the $532,000 debt service payment leaves a yearly balance of $2,299,710. This represents $479,325 more per year than Dispatch is operating on presently.
This increase may not be a bad idea if the taxpayers were promised there would not be any additional increases for the 10-year payback term. However, this is not the case, nor will there be any "sunset" on the increase once the debt is paid. Raising the 911 fee is the logical means to help pay for the much needed radio upgrade. Is a 56 percent increase too much considering there is no guarantee against future increases? Without future increases (which we know will happen) the $70 fee will provide $4,793,250 above the cost of the radio infrastructure over the 10-year period. Keep in mind the infrastructure is not the only cost to the taxpayers. Each city and the County will need to buy new radios.
Campbell Countians are more than willing to pay their fair share to insure public safety. I also believe Campbell Countians should be allowed to keep more of what they earn. The best decisions on how to spend your money is made by you. Rather than building the reserve fund of government, how about a modest fee increase and letting the taxpayers put more of their money in their own reserve fund?
To state this simply using round numbers, the cost of the radio infrastructure is $5 million. The taxpayers are being asked to repay $10 million.
The question is not, should there be an increase? The question is, how much? As economist Walter Williams states, “Prosperity forgone is Invisible.”
Charlie "Coach" Coleman is a Campbell County Commissioner